The modern battlefield is constantly evolving and becoming increasingly complex. More than ever, the combatant needs to be prepared to engage in multiple operational environments throughout the spectrum of conflict. The recent uprise of a near-peer conflict at the border of Europe has demonstrated that Major Combat Operations are still a part of the spectrum of conflict that our combatants face.
Any dismounted military operation requires small units to conduct the following tactical functions* organically:
- Close with the enemy by manoeuvring and taking the objective.
- Engage selectively, which is required to accurately engage a target of opportunity at long range or where there is a risk of collateral damage.
- Protect themselves, other individuals and crew-served weapons.
- Employ suppressive fire that limits the movement of the enemy.
Every military unit must have a capability that can address all of these tactical functions. Counter-insurgency operations mostly require the application of fire for the three first tactical functions (close assault, accurate long-range fire, and self-protection), but the resurgence of Major Combat Operations has demonstrated that suppressive fire is key to regaining the initiative on the battlefield.
While the whole range of weapon systems, from long-range artillery to mortars, contribute to the suppression of the enemy, for dismounted operations, machine guns remain – for now and into the future – a critical military capability across the spectrum of operations.
While some features differ, a machine gun is typically a fully-automatic, belt-fed weapon that provides a heavy weight of firepower for small units.
FN Herstal is synonymous with highly innovative machine guns and the company’s early work on machine guns dates back to its collaboration with the great John Moses Browning. Before WW2 this was mainly producing and adapting Browning designs. Then after the war new machine guns were developed to meet evolving requirements.
Today, FN Herstal products dominate all categories of machine guns, including heavy, medium/general purpose and light, and these are used across dismounted small units, as well as integrated onto air, land and sea platforms. And looking to the future, FN Herstal continues to invest in research and development that ensures its products are market leaders and address the most current threats on the battlefield.
Heavy machine guns
Heavy machine guns (HMGs) provide the ultimate in suppressive fire and FN Herstal has been a leader in HMGs for several decades. These guns are based on Browning’s .50 Cal (12.7x99mm) machine gun, which have been modernised.
There are two types, the FN® M2HB-QCB ground role versions with a rate of fire of +/- 600 rpm, and the fast-firing FN® M3 version with a rate of fire +/- 1,100 rpm, used on air, sea and land integrated weapon systems.
Rugged, reliable and highly effective, they are in service with armed forces all over the world, with no sign of them being replaced any time soon.
FN® M2HB-QCB Mk2 Heavy Machine Gun
Medium/general purpose machine guns
FN Herstal has a long history in the medium category, with the company manufacturing the Browning .30 medium machine guns before WW2.
After the war, the company designed a new generation of military small arms. The FN MAG® 58 – the general purpose machine gun (GPMG) – was designed for an emerging requirement to be used both as a dismounted machine gun operated by a team of two soldiers and as a crew-served machine gun to be used on vehicles in many configurations.
The FN MAG® in 7.62x51mm calibre was quickly adopted by many major armies. In the British Army, it is known as the L7A2 GPMG (affectionately known as the ‘Gimpy’), while in the US it is known as the M240. Having proved itself in nearly all high and low-intensity conflicts over the past sixty years the FN MAG® is now almost the only NATO calibre machine gun of its category still in mass production.
FN MAG® Machine Gun 7.62x51mm
Light machine guns
The FN MINIMI® light machine gun entered service with the adoption of the FN® SS109 5.56mm cartridge by NATO. This gave the infantry a fully effective belt-fed machine gun that could be carried, together with at least 600 rounds, by one man.
In service with most NATO armed forces, and other armies worldwide, the FN MINIMI® is widely combat-proven, and has evolved to meet changing requirements and integrates lessons from operational deployments. In US service, the FN MINIMI® is known as the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) and has seen combat in many theatres over the last four decades.
The FN MINIMI® 7.62 machine gun was added for units requiring the long-range effect of the 7.62x51mm cartridge.
FN MINIMI® Light Machine Gun 5.56x45mm
Ultralight machine guns
The FN MINIMI® gave the infantry a real machine gun they could carry. However, over the past decades the soldier’s load has increased with communications and night vision equipment, body armour, and more. Weight reduction has become a critical issue as this has impacted the mobility of soldiers, which has exposed them to more danger on the battlefield and decreased survivability.
Firing single shots for self-defence or selective engagements is also more difficult with belt-fed machine guns, which calls for a different solution.
So FN Herstal developed the FN EVOLYS® ultralight machine gun. Belt-fed, firing from an open bolt, it gives the firepower to effectively complement rifles. A selective fire trigger and accuracy help avoid collateral damage, or conserve ammunition. New design features make the weapon easy to reload reliably even when holding it in one hand, with ergonomics similar to a rifle. The side-mounted feed mechanism allows a long, one-piece top rail able to mount sights in-line. Its reduced weight makes it useful for the “automatic rifle” role, without compromising effectiveness.
The FN EVOLYS® addresses the requirements of the ever-evolving battlespace and allows small units to close with the enemy, suppress them to limit their movement, and selectively engage targets, especially in the urban environment.
As a summary, every weapon of the dismounted units has its own purpose and covers a part of the tactical functions. The synergy of all these capabilities provides a decisive advantage over the enemy.
FN EVOLYS® Ultralight Machine Gun
*These functions are embedded in most Western military doctrines and described in NATO’s Land Capability Group Dismounted Soldiers Systems “D/7 Document”.